One of the most influential economic treatises of the twentieth century and Austrian-American economist Ludwig von Mises’ single most important work, Human Action: A Treatise on Economics, first appeared 70 years ago, in September of 1949.
Human Action was first published by the Yale University Press in 1949 and later that same year in London by William Hodge and Company. The German-language predecessor to Human Action, titled Nationalökonomie: Theorie des Handelns und Wirtschaftens, first appeared in 1940. Human Action was not a direct translation of the earlier work, but used its general framework and expanded on it. A revised and expanded second edition came out in 1963. This edition, also by the Yale University Press, was full of typographical errors, and another one had to be printed quickly afterwards by another editor. This third revised edition was published by Contemporary Books in Chicago.
A cornerstone in the understanding the nature of the free society and the workings of the market economy, Human Action presents the case for laissez-faire capitalism based on praxeology, or rational investigation of human decision-making. Mises argues that the free-market economy not only outdistances any government-planned system, but ultimately serves as the foundation of civilization itself. Only days after its publication, free-market journalist Henry Hazlitt reviewed the book in his column in Newsweek magazine, asserting, “[The] book is destined to become a landmark in the progress of economics.… Human Action is, in short, the most uncompromising and the most rigorously reasoned statement of the case for capitalism that has yet appeared…. It should become the leading text of everyone who believes in freedom, in individualism, and the ability of a free-market economy not only to outdistance any government-planned system in the production of goods and services for the masses, but to promote and safeguard, as no collectivist tyranny can ever do, those intellectual, cultural, and moral values upon which all civilization ultimately rests.”
A key concept of the work is Mises’ insistence of the fundamental importance of economic calculation as applied to the process of human rationality, and in turn, economic productivity and efficiency. While many socialists of the early 20th century argued that the institutions of the market economy could be dissolved, Mises argued that that only with market-based prices expressed through a medium of exchange could rational decision-making, or human action, be undertaken and applied, through the the means of production, to ensure the effective satisfaction of consumer demand. von Mises would expand upon this theory with the publication of Epistemological Problems of Economics, his most thorough defense of the method and scope of economic science.
“A milestone” in von Mises’ groundbreaking development of praxeology, Epistemological Problems remains fundamental in establishing the “significance of economic calculation for the architecture of economic science.” Originally published in 1933, a period when the social sciences and economic policy were undergoing upheaval, it is his most powerful and comprehensive elaboration of the span of economic science, arguing that errors of socialism, institutional racism, nationalism and other aspects of human society can be seen as a revolt against the distinctive rationality of economic logic and science.
In addition to von Mises’ most fundamental works, Human Action and Epistemological Problems, our collection currently includes many other notable treatises, including his Theory and History: An Interpretation of Social and Economic Evolution, Bureaucracy, and Planned Chaos, among others.